As parents, we only want the best for our children. But nutritionists, dieticians and pediatricians agree that sugar alone is not the best nutritional choice in your kitchen cupboard. Nor are the packaged cookies and other junk food that contain processed and refined sugar. However, despite popular opinion over the past decade—and wives' tales that have been around even longer—sugar in itself isn't harmful; it is not a poison that you have to ban from your household. In moderation, foods that contain sugar can be a reasonable addition to a well-rounded diet.
"Sugar per se is not bad for children," says Madeleine Sigman-Grant, PhD, RD, professor and maternal, child health and nutrition specialist at University of Nevada-Reno Cooperative Extension in Las Vegas.
In fact, you would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time keeping your child away from sugar altogether. "Sugar is in virtually everything we eat," says Jessica Pellicciotta, RD, a registered dietician in Philadelphia. In addition to the obvious sweet and tempting treats such as candy and cookies, cakes and pies, sugar is found naturally in fruit and milk, and is an ingredient in many brands of yogurt, tomato sauce, and salad dressings.
Sugar not only adds sweetness to foods; it also plays a role in our ability to eat and enjoy food in many other ways. It creates texture and color to baked goods, adds body to yogurt, balances the acidity in tomato products, and increases the boiling point and reduces the freezing point in foods.
Some of the types of sugar that you will find on a food label include:
Your child's body treats all of these sugars—natural sugars in fruits and honey or processed sugars in candy and ice cream—the same way. "Sugar is a carbohydrate, the body's main source of energy," says Pellicciotta. Which means that sugar helps give your child the ability to run and jump and play, just like bread or pretzels. "We blame sugar for so many problems," adds Pellicciotta. "It gets a bad rap, but it's not a bad food." The problem emerges when sugar becomes a staple in a child's diet, replacing healthy foods that contain necessary nutrients.